About the Amazon Kindle and Dedicated Book Readers

The Future of Books is digital, this seems pretty clear now. The details have yet to be worked out. From Slashdot: “With a seven-page cover story on The Future of Reading, Newsweek confirms all those rumors of Amazon’s imminent introduction of an affordable ebook. Kindle, which is named to evoke the crackling ignition of knowledge, has the dimensions of a paperback, weighs 10.3 oz., and uses E Ink technology on a 6-inch screen powered by a battery that gets up to 30 hours from a 2-hour charge.”

I think dedicated ebook readers are a dead-end, but I also think ebooks are the clearly the future of books.

My initial thoughts about this device:

  1. This is a device that is being made by a book lover. Jeff Bezos actually likes books and also understands that he might like books that other people don’t like.
  2. This is a device being made by someone who really understands the business of The Long Tail. Making money with books, like music, involves supporting a transaction-rich infrastructure where people can profitably trade/produce and buy tiny numbers of copies.
  3. The Kindle itself (what a horrible name for a book reader. How about the Amazon “Pile of Burning Books”?) on first look doesn’t exactly inspire tech lust the way an Apple or Sony product does. (The photo currently out there is from the prototype, so maybe the released version will look better.) Who knows whether the Kindle will be the platform?

Really, I suspect as integrated handheld products continue to get better — for instance the much-rumored Mac tablet with a multi-touch interface — it will be enjoyable to read a book on these devices. It is perfectly functional now to read a book on a PDA, and even enjoyable using Microsoft’s Lit Reader software on a Windows Mobile Device. E-Ink itself is a fascinating idea, but standard LCD-style displays have some tricks up their sleeve. LCD screens are beginning to appear on sheets of plastic and, with polycarbon fiber, such freaky things as displays that will be able to change their shape depending on the interface are possible. The touch screen interface has experienced its first major transition, Apple’s use of multitouch. Imagine, then, a screen that can change shape depending on the information it would like to display, and the audio/physical input of the user? Books, like songs, will continue to exist in the digital environment, but it is difficult for me to see them justifying a stand-alone device. The latest iPod (the iPod touch) plays music, videos, photos, and allows a user to surf. The old iPod is clearly marked now as “an iPod classic” (last year’s idea.) Even a crummy paperback has a physical presence. The entire object is dedicated to one book. As soon as you open the idea to the kind of metaphors enabled by a digital device, it seems inefficient to have an entire device dedicated to a single metaphor.

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